Gerald Sinstadt: Telepathy experiments can reflect badly in the search for proof
BACK in the 1970s when Bill Shankly was laying the foundations of a Liverpool team that would go on to rule Europe, Kevin Keegan and John Toshack formed a remarkable partnership.
For a couple of seasons, the Englishman and the Welshman, the little and large of the Anfield attack, were irresistible.
When they were not scoring goals they were making them for each other.
So instinctively did they read each other's moves people remarked that at times the pair seemed to have a telepathic relationship.
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Now telepathy has long been a fascinating subject, but despite its frequent appearance in fiction, actually proving its existence has been elusive.
There was a series of popular television and radio programmes in which an Australian husband and wife, the Piddingtons, apparently transmitted thoughts even when in separate, locked rooms miles apart.
Was it just a brilliant act, or was it genuinely telepathic?
Nobody seemed to know, but it was not for lack of trying to find out.
There is a very primitive basic test that is sometimes thought to give a clue.
At Granada Television, we seized on it to see if it would tell us anything about Keegan and Toshack.
With their agreement, we sat them back to back on a narrow bench, Keegan facing the camera, Toshack looking away.
The camera was then positioned where it could see, as it were, straight down the line over their heads.
On cue, Toshack held up a card which the camera could see before panning down to Keegan's face. There was a series of three cards each bearing a different shape.
Telepathy from one to the other would, we hoped, enable Keegan to visualise the card.
The first shape was a triangle. Keegan was seen concentrating hard before saying, "Triangle."
Of course, the odds against him getting it right were only two to one. But the experiment continued – square, square, triangle, circle – each subjected to intense thought before being correctly identified.
It looked as though Friday's "Kick Off" show had a scoop that would make Saturday's front pages. Until Keegan collapsed in helpless giggles to confess that he could see the cards reflected in the camera lens.
Subsequently, discredited telepathy disappeared from Granada and the wider football media.
But recent developments in neuroscience may mean that a comeback will be possible.
This is thanks to a startling discovery by Professor Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Yes, you are right, the clever professor is a newcomer to the sports section, but maybe not for ever. Because of his work with rats.
I may have to simplify a bit here, science not being my strong subject. But in essence, the prof claims that by inserting a chip in a rat's brain it was possible for it to communicate with another rodent similarly equipped.
In the experiment one rat guided another to where food was concealed.
What's more, it apparently worked when one rat was in North Carolina and its telepathic partner was in Brazil. Impressive or what?
Of course, this may feel dangerously close to science fiction, but remember how HG Wells and Jules Verne, not to mention Leonardo da Vinci, were ahead of their time.
But where, you will be asking, does this connect with football?
It is not for this column to suggest – perish the thought – that rats might have more advanced brains than Premier League full-backs.
Nevertheless, it is surely permissible to speculate about where this might lead the game, say 50 years from now.
Imagine the manager no longer having a chip on his shoulder with the referee.
Instead, with a chip in his brain he'll be sending out his team all prepared with matching chips.
No more dancing up and down on the touchline, no more frantic semaphore.
No sooner does he perceive a weakness in the opposition than he begins emitting brain waves to his men on the pitch... 4-4-2 switches in an instant to 3-5-2.
But his opposite number, not in the dug-out but high in the stand studying the moves on his extra-smart phone, orders a quick counter and wins a corner.
To deal with that the defenders are told to adopt zonal defence and ...
Enough. This is no longer the game as we know it, or as Keegan and Toshack knew it.
This is science fiction chess with footballers. This column says rats to Professor Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
If it ever came to this, I would retire to watch my home town team struggling in the lower reaches of the pyramid on their tidy little ground across the road from the cemetery.
You will say it couldn't happen. They said that about goal line technology didn't they, but next season it will no longer be an abstract argument.
Just be careful what you wish for.